Eagles' Villanueva 'feels like a football player again'

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Eagles' Villanueva 'feels like a football player again'

It’s been a while since Alejandro Villanueva could call himself a football player.

For Villanueva, a former U.S. Army captain who spent the past four years in the military (see story), the Eagles’ OTAs over the past three weeks have been the first time he's participated in football activities since a tryout with the Cincinnati Bengals following his senior season at Army in 2009.

“I feel like a football player again,” Villanueva said following the Eagles' OTA on Tuesday. “I feel like I’m doing all the requirements that all the other players are doing, so I feel like I’m part of the team.”

However, his time with the Eagles so far hasn’t had much in common with his football experience at Army.

At 6-foot-9 and 277 pounds, Villanueva’s size and speed were so uncommon for Army that his coaches were never quite sure how to best maximize his abilities. He played three positions in four years, starting off as a defensive lineman, developing into a starting left offensive tackle as a junior before converting to wide receiver as a senior and leading the team with 34 receptions, 522 yards and five touchdowns.

The Eagles have determined that his size will be best spent as a defensive end, a decision that is perfectly fine with Villanueva. After the constant shuffling in college, he is looking forward to finally being able to develop at one position.

“[Playing defense] is a lot different but the coaching has been great, so I’ve been able to learn from all of them,” Villanueva said. “If they think I have a better chance of playing defensive [line], I’ll play there.”

Having not played defense since the beginning of his sophomore year of college, Villanueva has relied heavily on his new teammates to learn defensive coordinator Billy Davis’ scheme, particularly two-time Pro Bowler Trent Cole and second-year defensive end Brandon Bair.

Although his height would seem to give him potential as a pass rusher, Villanueva has concentrated mostly on learning the run-stuffing techniques that come with playing defensive end in the 3-4.

“[Defensive line] coach [Jerry] Azzinaro has been adamant about the key points I can focus on,” Villanueva said. “In our scheme, striking and using my legs are those things. As we progress, hopefully I can put those things into play and improve from where I started.”

In reality, Villanueva’s focus is not on what position he plays as much as it is simply making the team.

A team captain his senior year at West Point, Villanueva's biggest adjustment has been adapting his mindset to fighting for a roster spot after being a key player in college.

Earning a spot on special teams will likely be his best chance to make the final roster; he spent much of Tuesday’s session practicing with the kick return unit.

“Playing football at Army is pretty special and obviously I have a lot more experience there,” Villanueva said. “[Playing for the Eagles] is a different situation. At Army I played four years and was always able to contribute and now I’m just trying to make the team.

“Making the team [is my goal], so if they put me on all the special teams that would be the best news.”

In his few weeks as an Eagle, Villanueva has already received numerous questions from his teammates about his time in the Army. He served three tours in Afghanistan during his four years of service.

Although he is eager to move on with this new chapter in his life as a professional athlete, Villanueva has no problem with teammates asking him about his past. If anything, the camaraderie in the locker room has been his favorite part of playing football again.

“Sometimes they ask about it (being in the army) when they have a question that’s been burning them,” Villanueva said. “Usually they have a question about how things are run. It’s a learning experience for a lot of them. My teammates have been awesome, so it’s been pretty fun overall.”

Another award: Carson Wentz named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month

Another award: Carson Wentz named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month

Three games into his NFL career, Carson Wentz might need a bigger trophy case.

The 23-year-old, who picked up his first NFC Offensive Player of the Week award for his performance against Pittsburgh, has been named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month for September.

Yes, Wentz's first NFL month was a special one.

The No. 2 pick from North Dakota State has completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 769 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. He's the first rookie in NFL history to put up those numbers in the first three games of a career. And his 102 straight passing attempts without an interception is also a rookie record.

It's hard to believe that a little over a week before the season began, Wentz was scheduled to be the Eagles' third-string quarterback and have a redshirt year. That all changed when de facto GM Howie Roseman traded away starter Sam Bradford and the team decided to start the rookie.

While many thought the decision to start Wentz was the beginning of a long rebuilding year, the rookie has the Eagles off to a fast 3-0 start. Wentz has played very well, but has also been aided by a stout defense, led by NFC Defensive Player of the Month Fletcher Cox.

This week, Wentz is spending some time hunting while the Eagles are on their bye week. He bagged another trophy on Thursday.

The team will be back in action on Oct. 9 in Detroit to face the Lions.

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Fletcher Cox named NFC Defensive Player of the Month

Fletcher Cox named NFC Defensive Player of the Month

New contract, new scheme, new award. 

Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has been named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September.

Through three games, Cox has fought through many double teams to pick up three sacks, a forced fumble and six quarterback hurries. Cox is coming off his strongest game of the season, against the Steelers, when he had two sacks and a forced fumble. He's nearly a third of the way to his career high in sacks, 9.5, which came in 2015.

This is the first Defensive Player of the Month award for Cox and the first for an Eagle since Connor Barwin took the honor in November 2014.

Cox, 25, is back in an attack style defense under coordinator Jim Schwartz and he's been extremely disruptive through three games. This offseason, the Eagles' best player signed a six-year extension worth $103 million, with $63 million guaranteed. A month in, Cox looks like he's worth the money.

The Pro Bowl defensive lineman has been a big reason why the Eagles' defense has been so stout and why the team has started the year with a 3-0 record. The Eagles have given up a league-low 27 points through three games and just 20 on defense. They're also tied for third in the league with 10 sacks and have given up just 274.3 yards per game (fourth in the league).

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